The total cost of bike ownership

We all love a bargain, but there’s a huge difference between ‘cheap’ and ‘cost-effective’ cycling gear. 

Tools by SLO County Bicycle CoalitionThere’s an interesting equation which explains perfectly the number of bikes we should own: n+1, where ‘n’ equals the number of bikes currently owned. Similarly, there’s an equation that can be used to explain expenditure on cycling made by those who commute to work: (n+g)-£1, where ‘n’ equals the cost of other means of getting to work and ‘g’ equals the cost of a gym membership.

Essentially, the rule is thus. By cycling to work, one avoids expenditure on public transport or petrol, and possibly both; indirectly, the cost of a monthly gym membership which doesn’t need to be invested in can also be factored in. Add the monthly cost of both, minus £1 and that’s your monthly budget for cycling-related kit. 

It’s a surprisingly powerful tool that can be used to explain or justify a myriad cycling bling – sometimes to loved ones and sometimes to yourself. But it can also be dangerous.

Although tongue in cheek, I’m pretty sure that cyclists come out the other end of the equation cost neutral at best – after all, riding hundreds of miles a month in all weather soon takes its toll; and chains, sprockets, wheels, tubes and clothes all need replacing.

Here’s how it normally happens:

  • Step 1: Decide on an absolutely essential, unimaginably important piece of kit that simply must be added to the cycling arsenal.
  • Step 2: Conduct thorough internet research to locate the best price.
  • Step 3: Think about it a bit more and convince yourself you don’t really need it.
  • Step 4: Return to stage 2.
  • Step 5: Buy.

A few days later, a shiny new bit of bling arrives and life carries on happily.

Or, at least, sometimes it does. Very recently I went on a big, long ride through the lumps, bumps and lanes of Surrey. It was hugely enjoyable until I got home and noticed that the hub of my expertly purchased, bargain-tastic rear wheel was wobbling from side to side like a Friday-night drunk.

A week earlier, a spoke had popped. A month or so prior to that, a different spoke had popped and at this point the internet-sourced, free-delivery bargain wheel was beginning to look like a bit of a dud.

One of the popped spokes was fixed in the local workshop (kitchen), the other taken to a local bike shop for a more expert touch and the wobbly wheel (loose cones for those with a penchant for geekiness) was fixed tonight by another bike shop on the route home.

All of which takes the total cost of an internet-sourced bargain wheel well beyond what a local bike shop would have charged.

The point is that while the wheel could have been returned to the internet retailer which, no doubt, would have fixed the problem and returned it within a few days, this was of no use. The wheel was needed tonight, will be needed tomorrow and was needed yesterday.

Only local shops can help with this type of service.

David Rae

If you liked this article, please subscribe to the &Bike Sunday Read newsletter – an exclusive, in-depth article every Sunday delivered to your inbox. Also, please share using the widgets below. Finally, we’d love to hear your views, either through the comments section or via email


  1. I try to convince myself that I stay within a limit set by the cost of a monthly rail / tube ticket, but I’m too cowardly to actually test the figures as I suspect I’ll be wrong. Very wrong. However, cycling isn’t just a means of getting from A to B, it’s also a hobby that I enjoy and so I don’t really begrudge myself spending the cash.

    You allude that local bike shops offer a great service of almost instant repairs, but unfortunately I don’t find this to be the case; since I work from 9-5, Monday to Friday I can’t easily get to a local bike shop, particularly if the bike I want repairing isn’t serviceable. This means I have to go to the shop at the weekend, but most offer limited workshop services at the weekend and don’t have the facilities to store bikes from one weekend to the next.

    • Fair points, which I can’t really argue with. Yesterday’s ride just reminded me of the need to think about total cost, rather than price.

      I suppose my point is that trawling the web for a bargain doesn’t always end happily.

  2. My bike was £1000 on cycle to work, so I’m cost-neutral (ish) for a given month if I ride to work and back ten times (five return trips, £10/day). And I bought a nice baselayer the other day, that was £30. And a couple of months back I bought a winter jacket and mudguards…

    Yeah, I’m kidding no-one but myself. But if gym membership is £100/month I’m saving loads of money!

  3. With respect to the cost of bike ownership and the fact that you invested in monkey metal rather than that which you really should have bought…

    there are the added but hidden costs, the schlep to the LBS for a repairs and spares, the home time repair time that should be spent riding/being a father/partner, AND the all important steps 2 & 4 that should be done in our own time but are more probably done in work time – leading to rushed work, missed deadlines, unpaid O/T/working at home etc…. time is money and cycling is a Time Bandit even before arse touches saddle!

  4. “time is money and cycling is a Time Bandit even before arse touches saddle!”

    True that. And it’s even more time consuming when you finally get out. I left the house on Saturday at 7.45 and got back 5 hours later. You don’t get many of those past the gatekeeper…

  5. Erm… You can’t diagnose and fix loose cones? You think being able to do that is geeky?

    • Ah. Well, in my defence, I did suspect it to be the cones, and I did intend to have a fettle when I got home, but I was passing a bike shop and thought I’d just get it sorted… Oh, and neither do I have cone spanners (which you’ll probably tell me are the same as normal spanners).

      Anyway, guilty as charged. I did replace a spoke and retrue the wheel a week previously though? Does that get me back my bike badge 😉

      • For re-truing your wheel you get a stamp on your progress card, but you need five more stamps before I forgive you. Seriously though, I grew up ( God, I’m only 49) stripping my bike twice a year and rebuilding it completely – every bearing cleaned and greased, every spoke checked for tension regularly. My current bike has pedals for which I can’t justify the price of the unique Shimano spanner which costs far more than replacement pedals. I have a Hollowtech crank set for which I don’t have the specialised tools (I will take the bike to the local bike co-op when I decide to replace it with something more practical for me). I always loved my old bikes because I knew every part of them was maintained by me. It made the relationship more intimate. I hate that I haven’t been able to strip down the current bottom bracket. My first set of wheels lasted 15 years commuting 130ish miles a week. They were retired because 27 inch wheels were replaced by 700c wheels. The kit you buy is not that important. TLC is.
        I like to rant about this stuff because, for me, cycling is special due to the ease of caring for the machine. Every six months or so a friend, who cycles a lot, brings his bike round for some maintenance. It’s always a good day mucking about with his bike and having a few beers, but I always have to send him off to the bike shop because so many bits have rusted/corroded/worn out due to lack of care. He gets through chains and cables at a rate I can barely believe.
        What I’m saying is that I see two aspects of being a cyclist. Riding and looking after the bike. Without one you lessen the joy of the other. So much of modern cycling (websites and magazines) seems to just be about buying new and more stuff and it leaves me cold. Things don’t need replacing that often.

        I’ve probably not responded to any previous points made at all have I?
        I’ll just go and make a cup of cocoa and have a good sleep. I’ll be fine in the morning – wanders off humming tunes from ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ to himself…

        • Excellent.

          Your point about being left cold hits the mark on so many levels, and not just in relation to our increasingly disposable culture. Bikes are made of plastic, by moulding machines in sterile factories. There aren’t so many oily rags and flaming torches anymore. The pure engineering simplicity of bikes are definitely one of the attractions of the sport. Pull a lever, a cable tightens and you stop. Push down on a pedal, a chain engages with a cog and you move forward.

          Don’t even get me started on Di2…

          P.s., Maybe we could give you a role on &Bike – “Dr Colin”; fixes to common bike problems!

  6. Dude — you need to get a spare set of wheels!

    • …but I take the point about supporting your LBS. Thank goodness my local LBS is on my commute — it’s rescued me a few times now. OTOH, I actually have three LBS: one on the commute that I use mostly for ad-hoc fixes, tubes, and computer batteries; one for serious technical issues (wheel trueing, derailleur adjustments); and one for seeking out bike bargains (it has the largest selection). I would support them all more but my better half would have something to say about my expenditures!

Speak Your Mind